This question is very difficult to answer because of the ambiguity of the feminist movement. The minimalist definition of feminism is the establishment and defense of gender equality in the political, social, and economic arenas. Basically, that women should have equal rights to influence and participate in government, to work in the marketplace, and to interact with the culture. The Bible neither promotes nor rejects these demands. Biblical law was designed to ensure the protection and support of women in a sometimes abusive patriarchal society. If those goals can be best met through equal rights, then the definition above is biblical. Unfortunately, those in the feminist movement have not always chosen what is actually best for women or society.
It is possible to be a Christian feminist? Is feminism against the Bible?
The feminist movement began in the mid-nineteenth century for many of the same reasons God enacted woman-protective standards in the Mosaic Law: women were not being protected or cared for at a legislative or cultural level. Many early feminists began as abolitionists who quickly saw the parallels between the plight of slaves and themselves. The misogynistic society viewed women as little better than property. If their husbands divorced them or died, they had no right to raise their children, and few ways to support themselves. Suffrage, the right to vote, was considered to be a practical way to ensure women's issues were attended to in public policy.
The earliest feminists fought for suffrage not because they wanted to take men's roles, but because they wanted the role of women to be respected and even celebrated. Abortion was common at the time because women could not financially provide for their children. Everything feminine, including the ability to become pregnant and bring life into the world, was marginalized. With political consideration and the right to education, feminists believed they could contribute positively to their world.
The direction of feminism took a turn in the early 1960s. Where the early feminists wanted biblical femininity celebrated, the "Second Wave" wanted it ignored. Socially, politically, and economically, they wanted no distinction between men and women. Gradually, lies crept in that convinced women that they were both no different than men and that they would be better living independently from men.
This second wave was not initially concerned with abortion. The fight against those social constructs that made abortion attractive was still paramount. It was two men who convinced the National Organization for Women (NOW) that abortion was a right of women. Their personal reasons (that the earth was over-crowded and that illegal abortions were unsafe) were either concealed or exaggerated. It wasn't until the men lied and claimed 10,000 women died yearly because of unsafe abortions that women listened. The number was never that high, but the harm was done. Abortion rights has been a rallying cry for most feminists ever since.
The lie of abortion rights started noble-sounding but grew into a monster that still destroys lives and relationships. Women began to believe that their lives were meaningless unless they exactly replicated men's. Education and career, unencumbered by children, became the standard. For those who wanted a family, the balance was nearly impossible to achieve. The early feminists wanted a say in their families; the later feminists found themselves in complete control of house and children, but still felt expected to conquer degrees and careers. Instead of joining men, they took control and rejected men.
The third wave of feminism began in the 1980s and again took things in a different direction. "Standpoint feminists," having gained sufficient personal freedom, now look outside their own culture and strive to protect persecuted women and minorities around the world. "Difference feminists" believe that men and women are inherently different and have unique contributions to society—sounding closer to the original feminists of the Nineteenth Century. Others believe there is no difference between men and women, and that any claim otherwise is discrimination.
Feminism in the Bible
Believe it or not, the Mosaic Law and the teachings of Jesus were paragons of women's rights in patriarchal societies. The Old Testament laws served the same purpose early feminists hoped suffrage would. They protected women from sexual attack, ensured women would be supported if their husbands died or divorced them, and then even gave women a place to worship within the Temple.
Jesus' teachings and actions were no less radical. He forgave women of ill repute (John 8:1-11), spoke respectfully to a Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42), and willingly interacted with an unclean woman (Matthew 9:20-22). No rabbi, priest, or Pharisee would have dared do any of those things. Jesus ignored culture and the pressures of expectation to honor and show love to women.
The Bible did not go as far as most feminists wish, however. The Bible gives equal value to women, but it does not dictate that women must or should have equal rights. On the other hand, The Bible does not forbid women from having equal rights. It says that women must be submissive to their husbands and must ensure the home responsibilities are taken care of. After that, there is no law against women moving freely through the marketplace, the arts, or the government.
The Bible and Modern Feminism
Despite what many Christians believe, it is impossible to roundly condemn or confirm modern feminism via the Bible. The beliefs and convictions within feminism are too broad, varied, and contradictory to allow a succinct judgment. Feminist ideologies can be good, neutral, or bad.
The Biblical: Several feminist convictions, especially the earlier ones, are biblical. It is biblical to ensure mothers can support their children (that was the point of a bride-price—to provide a divorced or widowed woman with a nest egg). It is biblical to ensure mothers have rights to their children. It is biblical that women are supported after being widowed or divorced. All of these things are important enough to God that He set them into law.
Modern feminists have branched out into areas of justice that directly line up with God's word. It is biblical to fight for the protection of others around the world, to encourage other governments to ban rape, female genital mutilation, and human trafficking. Feminism began with abolitionism, and seems to be going back to its roots in many ways.
The Good: Beyond the validation of biblical law, there are a few feminist ideals that are good enough that Jesus and Paul affirmed them through words and actions. It is good for women to have access to education (Luke 10:38-42), to receive medical care that addresses their needs (Matthew 9:20-22), and it is absolutely biblical to believe that women are equal to men in value (Galatians 3:26-28). It is good and proper that society sees to the needs of women.
The Neutral: Feminists, both early and late, also have ideals that are allowed but not prescribed by the Bible. Most of these are under the umbrella of "equal rights." The Bible doesn't talk about equal rights as we think of them, but it doesn't discourage them, either. So it is that women are free to seek equal opportunities in education, business, arts, government, and every other secular arena. With this comes the caveat that, just as men may pursue interests if their families are provided for (1 Timothy 5:8), women must ensure their home is running smoothly (Titus 2:3-4).
The Unbiblical: Unfortunately, there are many feminist causes that are in direct violation of biblical truths. While birth control is a mostly neutral issue, abortion is absolutely sin. Any support of homosexuality is also sin. The belief that women are more valuable than or do not need men is unbiblical. And the movement toward female senior clergy is directly against God's Word.
It is impossible to categorically condemn or affirm feminism based on the Bible. It has gone through too many stages and has now branched off into too many variations. As with many movements, the individual messages must be judged on their own merits. It was good for femininity to gain a value in society and for the needs of women to be addressed. It is fine for women to have reached a place of freedom within their culture. But many of the issues feminists have supported with that freedom have been unwise or sinful. As with anything, we should study the Scriptures and see what God says—and be willing to accept His Word on it. It may not be what we expect or would wish for, but it will be what's best.
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